Cambridge university: excellence, mediocrity, stupidity

Dr Owen Holland and the Cambridge English
Dr Priyamvada Gopal's Rules of Etiquette
Dr Lorna Finlayson, Philosopher Queen
Dr Ian Patterson and 'unparalleled outrage'
Dr Jason Scott-Warren: 'Out! Out! Out!'
Dr Andrew Zurcher, selective  libertarian


This is one of the newest page on the site. It will be revised and extended. For the time being, the main material here is material which has been moved to this page from my page Israel, Islamism, Palestinian ideology. All the material is concerned with intolerance and the focus of attention is Cambridge University. I examine in detail one remarkable and shameful episode to do with freedom of speech and denial of freedom of speech, in the section immediately below this introduction. All the people criticized in this section have anti-Israel pro-Palestinian views and support boycotts of Israel. All but one of these people are academics at Cambridge University. Lorna Finlayson was an academic at King's College, Cambridge, for some years but moved to Essex University. Some of their views on free speech are the focus of attention here but the discussion is wide-ranging.

Dr Owen Holland, the Cambridge English Faculty and Freedom of Speech at Cambridge

This section includes material on

(1) Owen Holland, the postgraduate student and arbiter, who decided that his views were so important that he had a duty to  protect Cambridge and the wider world from views not nearly so important as his own, such as the views of David Willetts, Minister of a democracy, who had been invited to speak at Cambridge but wasn't allowed to speak -  Owen Holland and his supporters had decided this should be so.

(2) Owen Holland the 'poet' whose grotesque and rambling 'poem' wasn't received with a stern Cambridge warning against incompetent and slovenly use of language. Dr Priyamvada Gopal of the Cambridge English Faculty, for instance, didn't find anything to object to. An exception is Dr Andrew Zurcher of Queens College, who supported the protest, with slight reservations. In the case of the text itself, his reservations weren't slight. He wrote

'The CDE protest text [the one declaimed by Owen Holland] was a shambles.'  It's to his credit that he calls it a 'text' and not a poem.' This member of the Cambridge English Faculty seems to have overlooked the fact that it was a Cambridge graduate in English Literature, Owen Holland' who was obviously oblivious of the multiple flaws of the text. Its hideous flaws suggest that it's possible to graduate in English literature from Cambridge University with a very striking insensitivity to words, a way with words which is so poor that it raises some troubling questions about the Faculty. Its hideous flaws suggest that it's possible to teach literature in the Faculty of English - to give just one example, Dr Gopal - without recognizing the hideous flaws. Even so, I've no general, far-reaching criticisms to make here of the Faculty or the University.

The extracts  from the 'protest text' and my comments on the 'protest text' will make it completely clear that I agree. It was a shambles. Below, I refer to it as a 'poem,' a text with no serious claims to be considered as poetry. I also refer to it as a 'pose-'poem.' '

Owen Holland studied  at St Catherine's College, Cambridge. He has a Cambridge MA degree in English and a Cambridge PhD, as well as an MA in Critical Theory from Sussex University. Of course, possession of a Cambridge degree in English Literature can't possibly guarantee that the graduate writes poetry which is better than mediocre, but it should guarantee that the graduate avoids elementary mistakes in the use of language.  Obviously, standards at Cambridge aren't  stratospherically high in every respect. A possessor of a Cambridge first degree in English can still produce a text - or a 'poem' - that is 'a shambles.'  An academic at Cambridge University, Dr Gopal for instance, can fail to see any problems with 'the poem.'

'Cambridge excellence' still survives, still flourishes, at the Cavendish laboratory, the engineering laboratories and many other places, including the Faculty of English but Cambridge excellence  coexists with Cambridge stupidity. Cambridge University is associated with immense scientific achievement, including the achievement of Newton. Cambridge University is also the place where Sandra Harding is a Visiting Professor - at the Centre for Gender Studies - for the Academic Year 2017 - 2018.

Sandra Harding's 'The Science Question in Feminism' is the book that contains the deranged claim that Newton's Principia Mathematica is a 'rape manual' because, she alleges, 'science is a male rape of female nature.'  According to this view, then, the science laboratories at Cambridge are full of 'rapists' busy 'raping' 'female nature.'

It would be an exaggeration to claim that there's something rotten in the state of the English Faculty at Cambridge, but, even if 'parts of it are excellent,' even if the strengths of the Faculty outweigh the faults, or, it may be, far outweigh the faults, some flaws seem  substantial,  impossible to ignore.   (I write about 'outweighing' and the importance of the concept, as I see it, on my page Ethics: theory and practice.)

(3) Owen Holland as demonizer of Israel, Owen Holland the specialist - the specialist misuser of words, such as the word 'apartheid,' the specialist so absorbed in his condemnation of Israel that he seems to have omitted to carry out a responsible survey of the intractable problems of the Middle East and other issues relevant to his condemnation, such as apartheid in South Africa, and there are many of them. Like many another Oxford and Cambridge academic, and many another academic at many other universities, he seems someone with a degree of rigour, or the appearance of rigour, or spurious rigour in his own field (which includes study of William Morris) and a dilettante when he comments on matters outside his field. Academics who have made a deep study of matters such as the complex histories of Middle Eastern countries, military tactics and strategy, the ethical problems raised by military action, and many other fields with a vast and complex literature, don't in general comment on William Morris. If they did, they should make strenuous efforts to know enough about William Morris to comment on him.  People with an interest in specialisms far removed from  harsh and unforgiving fields like military action often see no reason why they shouldn't lay down the law, unequipped, unprepared, inadequate, vulnerable.

I think the university's duty of care to students is an  important consideration in the protest led by Owen Holland at Cambridge. The last section in this column, after the profiles of Cambridge academics, Manchester University: boycotting, BDS and 'apartheid' discusses the issue of duty of care to students. It begins with the physical dangers of some forms of protest, not applicable to this protest at Cambridge, unlike some other, non-physical dangers. I criticize academics who encourage students to take these unnecessary risks, from a position of safety. After the opening material on risk I return to the subject later at various places. I give links to other material on the site on risk and the management of risk. This is wide ranging. It includes extreme risks as well as mundane risks. It includes material on rock-climbing and mountaineering amongst other things. It includes material on the kind of risks which Owen Holland faced, perhaps without realizing it at the time. He probably didn't give nearly enough thought to some possible consequences.

Dr Jason Scott-Warren, fellow of Gonville and Caius College (who should have given thought to some possible consequences for students who took part in the protest, above all some possible consequences for Owen Holland):

'It wasn’t only students who were involved in this ‘protest'; several academics were involved too. I was one of them. I was told in advance ... about what was planned, and when it started I joined in with the chant that drowned Willetts out.'

The YouTube video which records the protest:

'The chant that drowned Willetts out' begins at 11.45 in the video. Who were the other academics who were involved in the protest? Did none of them realize that this was a protest that had got out of hand? The should have realized that long before 'the chant that drowned out Willetts' which began at 11.45. They should have realized that there were likely to be repercussions for Owen Holland and risks for Cambridge's reputation. This was a deranged protest.

A viewing of the full video is likely to be a tedious experience but should be attempted if at all possible for a full appreciation of the deranged protest and the part played by Owen Holland - and not in a subsidiary role. He was the most prominent protester by far and it made perfect sense to impose sanctions on him. The evidence was clear-cut.  It would have been impossible to identify and unjust to impose sanctions on everyone involved. But identifying some at least of the other academics who were involved was feasible, surely.  Dr Jason Scott-Warren admitted that he took part. Sanctions on him and any other academics who can be proved to have taken part would have been justified, I think.  I don't discuss here the price that Owen Holland paid for his mock-heroic protest. I'll simply state that I think the original sanction, suspension from the University for seven terms, was much too harsh, but it was essential to deter future disruption of this kind.

This is a very short account of the protest,

'Holland, an English literature student, stood up and shouted out the lines, which were amplified by several other protesters in a human megaphone style.' The extracts from the so-called  poem below are transcribed from the video, except for the opening lines. I haven't been able to find a text version of the rest.

'The Best of Private Eye 1974' has a hilarious piece 'The Unpublishable Diaries of Evelyn Baugh.' It includes Baugh at Oxford - not, in isolation, particularly hilarious:

'He was enchanted by the wit, the elegance, the insouciant sophistication of post-war Oxford. It was the time of the famous 'aesthetes', including the legendary Hon. Sid Beloff, who kept a peacock in his rooms at Christchurch, and once astonished a group of passing rowing men by chanting at them through a megaphone Verlaine's poem "Bonjour matelots".

I don't attempt humour or sarcasm here, but my page Poems has a section Humour and sarcasm.

I don't think that the not-quiet-so-legendary Owen Holland ever kept a peacock in his room at St Catherine's, but his protest at Cambridge was just as ridiculous as the action of the legendary Sid Beloff.

The protest was ridiculous but no laughing matter. His language was stale and stilted. He called a letter an 'epistle,' if he had made a joke - very unlikely - he might well have called it a 'jest.'

I've not been able to find a 'definitive' version of this minipiece or rather micropiece - opposites of a masterpiece, to varying degrees. The extracts below are transcribed from the video. In a few places the sound is unclear to some extent. In written form, the badness of the lines is even more striking, Owen Holland's limitations even more evident: a  severe disadvantage, I would have thought, in a Cambridge-educated man  who now has the job of teaching students of English literature at Jesus College, Oxford.

This is the opening of the long pose-'poem' shouted out by Owen Holland.

The future does not belong to you.
This is an epistle
which is addressed to you.
But it is written
for those who will come after us.
Because we do not respect your right
to occupy the platform.

The 'poem' has yet to reach full stupidity, but already, there's more than the promise of stupidity in abundance.

Consider 'it is written / for those who will come after us.' The 'poet' is actually claiming to have written a 'poem' which has lasting significance, or should have lasting significance! He's writing for generations still to come - or one generation at least.

This grandiose claim can be compared with claims to lasting significance based on the writer's justified pride in work well done, such as Thucydides' claim that his history of the Peloponnesian War is 'a possession for all time'  (κτῆμά τε ἐς αἰεὶ) in section 1:22  The Roman poet Horace (Q. Horatius Flaccus claimed 'I have raised a monument more permanent than bronze' (Exegi monumentum aere perennius), Carmina III, 30. And, of course, the poetry has lasted to this day.

Owen Holland addresses the minister:

... you come with a knife
concealed beneath your cloak


We have already seen
the fixed gaze of the hired assassin.

This inflated rubbish is Owen Holland as drama queen rather than Owen Holland as responsible critic. It has to be admitted that this is rubbish perpetrated by someone with the benefit of a Cambridge University English degree - people not so fortunate, humble builders, for example, are very unlikely to have the knowledge needed to perpetrate this particular form of stupidity. Even so, builders, have their own expertise and skills, setting an example for Owen Holland which he can't match in the field of poetic composition. Here, he's a jerry builder with words, a beginner and a bungler and a bodger. This is emphatically not' 'a possession for all time.'

The poet-poseur, or 'poet'-poseur quickly explains why he detests David Willetts so much, or some of the reasons, and why David Willetts shouldn't be allowed to speak, according to this particular arbiter:

You have professed your commitment
to the religion of choice
but you leave us with no choice.

The protestors had no choice - can he be serious? They had the choice of standing outside the venue before David Willetts was due to speak, handing out leaflets to people who had decided to attend the event. There was no compulsion to wreck the event, to strengthen the growing Cambridge reputation for intolerance.

Another objection, which would only be decisive to people like Owen Holland:

You are a man
who believes in the market
[rather than state control of the market]
and in the power of competition [and not state control]
to drive up quality.
But look to the world around you.
Your gods have failed.

He's probably unaware of the book 'The God that failed: six studies in communism' which includes pieces by Arthur Koestler, Andre Gide, Stephen Spender and others. Whatever gods failed in the case of  David Willetts, allegedly, they're not to be equated with the vengeful God of communism.

A  Wikipedia page 'The highest death tolls that have been documented in communist states occurred in the Soviet Union  under Joseph Stalin,  in the People's Republic of China  under Mao Zedong, and in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. The estimates of the number of non-combatants killed by these three regimes alone range from a low of 21 million to a high of 70 million.'

There follows, after more forgettable verbiage, a laboured comparison which has only one advantage: it injects just a little laboured but unintended humour into the diatribe. Dr Gopal is just one of the Cambridge academics who seem not to have realized that this isn't poetry:

So we are climbing into the driving seat
because your steering is uncomfortable to us
and your destination
is not of our choosing.


So let us begin
by activating the emergency brake.

This i quickly followed by a blatant contradiction. After insisting that 'we are climbing into the driving seat' he now insists

We have no desire
to be put into the driving seat.
There are chairs enough in our libraries.

He seems to overlook the obvious point that chairs have different functions. A chair in a library can provide support but can't perform the functions of a car seat. More on libraries:

Would that there were more libraries,
because these are the only seats of learning
that we would wish to know.

Other 'seats of learning' are ignored. Professorial chairs are ignored. Laboratories and lecture theatres are ignored. It seems that he never bothered to revise these lines, but I can find no evidence that he revised any of the lines in the 'poem.'

Libraries do give rise to some obvious difficulties for Owen Holland. This is a view of the library of Jesus College, or some of it:

The Bodleian Library is much larger, of course - the second largest in the country, and a National deposit library, entitled to request one copy of every book published in the United Kingdom within a year of publication. Owen Holland's views of the spoken word are clear enough - if he disagrees  sufficiently strongly and is able to put a stop to it, then he does put a stop to it, at least he did in this case.   What is his view of the written word, such as the books in libraries? A library such as the Bodleian is very comprehensive. It contains books which give the arguments for and the arguments against, for example the arguments for a particular policy in higher education and the arguments against. Does Owen Holland question this? Would he throw out books which promote conservative policy in higher education, for instance? I take it that he and his supporters wouldn't engage in anything as crude as book burning? The  plaque which marks the place where Nazis burned books in Frankfurt is a harrowing record of the event.

From my page on bullfighting:

I've never at any time
 attempted to suppress pro-bullfighting views, Anti-bullfighting activists who do try to suppress pro-bullfighting views are very much mistaken - not mistaken about bullfighting,  but very much mistaken in opposing the free flow of ideas.

All attempts to suppress pro-bullfighting books or other printed materials, to suppress pro-bullfighting films or internet materials, to suppress pro-bullfighting talks and lectures, are deeply misguided. In 'the marketplace of ideas,' I regard anti-bullfighting arguments as decisively, overwhelmingly superior to pro-bullfighting arguments. The anti-bullfighting case needs no censorship of pro-bullfighting views.

The principle that there should be a free flow of ideas, information and evidence is a principle under attack. It's essential to defend it. I know of one organization which called upon a bookseller to remove a pro-bullfighting book from sale and was successful. This was a bad mistake on the part of the organization and the bookseller. There are many threats to freedom of expression, threats which may be veiled or violent.  They come from believers in  political correctness, Islamists and others. A bookshop or library should be under no pressure to deny shelf-space to books which criticize political correctness, Islam and bullfighting and books which support political correctness, Islam and bullfighting, and similarly for other issues. Before I could read Alexander Fiske-Harrison's
 Into the Arena it was necessary for me to buy a copy or borrow a copy from a library. I bought a copy. The idea that I should be expected to criticize Alexander Fiske-Harrison's defence of bullfighting on the basis of a few things I'd heard, without having read the book, is repugnant.


It's overwhelmingly likely that Cambridge University Library will continue to be a very comprehensive repository of print materials which aren't censored but publishing can't possibly be as comprehensive as librarianship. Even so, some of the output of the magnificent and shockingly bad Cambridge University Press goes well beyond mediocrity, some of its biases are blatant: I think that the term 'political correctness' is in need of replacement, but whatever replaces it, Cambridge University Press is likely to treat the questioning of political correctness as 'not suitable' for its list. . It will continue to publish philosophers' debates on the reality of the external world, on solipsism, and of course other epistemological topics, but it isn't very likely to publish academic doubts on this particular reality. Columbia University Press has published a very good book edited by Daphne Patai and Will H. Corral, 'Theory's Empire: An Anthology of Dissent.'


The site examines in detail one of its less successful attempts, The Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney. See, for example, Fran Brearton: Bowdlerizing and Breartonizing and Guinn Batten and the drowned sheep. For a discussion of academic over-loading, there's the section Allusions: The Greek Donkey.

The range of human sufferings, the range of human cruelties, the range of human imperfections are ignored in Owen Holland's monomaniac pursuit of David Willetts. Contrary to what Owen Holland may believe, David Willetts isn't one of the worst men who has ever lived and the views of David Willetts on such matters as higher education, choice and the economy aren't amongst the most shocking views ever to have been put forward. If the benefits of a Cambridge education don't include an understanding of such elementary points as these then so much the worse for a Cambridge education, at least in the Faculty of English.

The next line is one of the worst in the entire diatribe. I've used capital letters for emphasis.


If Dr Gopal considers this line a poetic line, then I have to disagree.

On the misuse of the word 'rape,' compare and contrast Sandra Harding, a Visiting Professor at Cambridge University, who claimed that Newton's 'Principia Mathematica' is a rape manual, because 'science is male rape of female nature.' On the face of it, this would seem to be an implicit claim that the students and academics at the Cavendish Laboratories and other laboratories at the university are involved in rape. More about Sandra Harding on my page on feminism, which also includes a profile of Professor Rae Langton, a philosopher associated with another outlandish claim.

The past of Cambridge University, like the present, is illustrious as well as embarrassingly bad. In science, there's the towering scientific and mathematical achievement of Newton, as well as the not nearly so impressive achievement of Richard Watson. Michael Grant, who was a fellow of Trinity College for a time, writes in his book 'Cambridge:' 'Richard Watson, on appointment to the Chair of Chemistry (1764) declared he had never read a syllable on the subject, or seen a single chemical experiment ...'

Tony Pinkney of Lancaster University wrote,

'Clearly Owen’s spirited protest ... comes from his Morrisian values, and Cambridge’s brutal reprisal against him is by the same token an attack on academic work on Morris and utopia.'

This is laughable, or would be laughable if it wasn't so depressing - moronic protest construed as spirited protest, Morrisian values given an importance which is grossly exaggerrated. Did Morrisian values underlie the tedious and inept lines of this interminable poem, or the line 'We do not wish to rape our teachers?' This is yet another academic who would react very very badly, I think, if one day students at one of his lectures started shouting, 'Pinkney! Pinkney! Pinkney! Out! Out! Out!' Whether 'Morrisian values' inspired their protest or not.

Owen Holland makes a rousing call to arms, not by any stretch of the imagination by poetic means, although there are propagandist Soviet 'poets' who have written lines  just as bad as these:

... we will stand with our teachers
on their picket lines.

More pose-'poetry' follows, not routine at all, much worse than routine. He refers to

Your methodistic framework of excellence
your chummy invitation
to hop on board
and serve the needs of the economy ...

Poetic excellence is completely absent from the line 'Your methodistic framework of excellence' but Dr Gopal would disagree, I think.

If the economy is irrelevant to Dr Owen Holland, if the needs of the economy are completely irrelevant, if he ignores the fact that so many benefits, in health, education and other spheres, are dependent upon economic health, then I only hope that only a small minority of  other graduates from the Faculty share these views.

But he insists that

... we are schooled
in a different kind of pedagogy.

It can be assumed that people who studied in the Cambridge Faculty of English and emerged unscathed, with a BA and possibly a PhD degree know the meaning of a word like 'pedagogy.' It can't be assumed that they have even low-level skills in some of the uses of words.

This prime piece of pretentiousness is followed quite quickly by

We understand that you do not like
to be told that you are wrong
so we also understand
that you do not want us to think
too rigorously
or creatively.

Owen Holland's capacity for rigorous or creative thought is difficult to detect.

 The muscularity and vigour available in English are completely missing from the next prissy lines (not forgetting all the other lines.)

It is inappropriate
to lay out to you
the terms of your own wrongness.


Here, and in other places, the protest text makes assumptions about some imperfections of humanity: David Willetts is the villain and the protestors are virtuous, very, very virtuous, Owen Holland included.

Another view of the imperfections of humanity, to be found in Kant's "'Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made,' Isaiah Berlin's loose translation of 'Aus so krummem Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert,' from 'Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbürgerlicher,' Absicht, 6. Satz (1784).)

A contrast of great interest, I think, from Friedrich Hölderlin's 'Lebenslauf' (1800):

Herrscht im schiefesten Orkus
Nicht ein Grades, ein Recht noch auch?

Where Orkus ('Orcus') is the  underworld of Roman mythology.

In my translation,

Does there not reign even in most crooked Orcus
a Straightness, a Law too?

This, in part, as a very short reminder of wonderful, concentrated poetry after so much examination of diffuse dross, with dross still to be examined - but I've already made it clear that this dross shouldn't be regarded as poetry, even the modest poetic achievement which Gerard Manley Hopkins called 'Parnassian.'

Owen Holland is making an effort to begin an academic career. He's a 'Career Development Fellow' at Jesus College. These Fellows are given help in obtaining their first academic post. Not long before he became a Career Development Fellow, the idea of a career was far from his mind, as the 'poem' makes clear. He asks of David Willetts,

But has it not occurred to you
that the notion of scholarship
far from leading to a profession
may in fact preclude it?

Unless, of course, this was just for show - the young idealist stressing his refusal to conform to worldly ways.

For the time being, Jesus College is stuck with a fellow paid to teach English literature with so little feeling for words that he can perpetrate 'may in fact preclude it' as a line in what has been widely regarded as a poem.

Possessions, like professions, are unimportant to him - or were at the time he denounced David Willetts and attacked other targets with his feeble blunderbuss.

We none of us believe
that any of our possessions are our own.

What - did he read those words after he'd written them to check if they would  make him appear ridiculous when he declaimed them in public? Thieves couldn't steal everything he owns or everything that the other protestors own, so reporting the theft to the police would be no use - since these people own nothing! According to Owen Holland.

Soon, the easily led were chanting this (the 'both' is superfluous here):

We are both measurably younger
and immeasurably older
than you.

A little later, this incompetent dramatist, or rather this incompetent over-dramatizer gives us this:

You can threaten to shoot at us
with rubber bullets.
You can arrest us.
You can imprison us.

Followed very quickly by this (again, capital letters supplied)


And the supporters repeat it


He takes the trouble to explain why David Willetts can't possibly rape these protestors:

Because we are more resolute
more numerous
and more determined than you.

The fact that the protestors are more numerous than David Willetts is a statement of the obvious, but this gves the clear impression that Owen Holland believes that people who are outnumbered are very likely to be in the wrong.

If Owen Holland believes that he's more resolute and more determined than me - he can't claim to be 'more numerous' than me, of course - then he may or may not decide to prove it, to his on satisfaction at least, by answering the criticisms here. I've drawn his attention to the section. I may or may not receive some sort of response from this resolute and determined Cambridge-educated man, a response which may or may not include arguments and evidence.

At last,  he comes to the climax:

The nub of the issue is this:

What can he be referring to? What is the decisive point? He gives the answer immediately:

You do not have confidence in yourself.

And the chanters repeat it.

At 11.45 in the YouTube video, a youth takes over. He could easily have been identified, surely, and perhaps was identified. He should have been sanctioned too. He shouts

'Willetts! Willetts! Willetts!'

And the response is,

'Out! Out! Out!'

The aggression of the audience is obvious but Owen Holland isn't at all fastidious. He doesn't sit in silence. He can be seen joining in before he turns his back to the camera. Gonville and Caius' Jason Scott-Warren isn't too fastidious either. By his own admission, he shouted with the rest.

George Orwell on elation and heavy drinking in a Paris bistro at half-past one in the morning. ('Down and Out in Paris and London.')

'We perceived that we were not splendid inhabitants of a splendid world, but a crew of underpaid workmen grown squalidly and dismally drunk.'

After the spurious exhilaration of listening to the not-so-potent words of Owen Holland, after the false thrill of shouting out 'Out! Out! Out' the protestors, Owen Holland included, may well have felt after the protest that they weren't, after all, 'splendid inhabitants of a splendid world.'

When it appointed Owen Holland to the post of Career Development Fellow in English Literature, Jesus College surely blundered - to be more exact, more fair-minded, whoever was responsible for appointing him made a mistake.

Since moving to Jesus, Dr Holland will have been expected to develop, amongst other things, the literary skills, values and insights of undergraudates, although how someone with so abysmal a feeling for poetry can possibly do them much good or any good at all is a mystery. 

Since moving to Jesus, Dr Holland seems to have been keeping a low profile. He's a Career Development Lecturer at Jesus - a temporary lecturer who is being supported as he attempts to get his first university post. He became quite famous for a  time for his part in the noisy protest at Cambridge and the sanctions which followed, but he may have decided that shouting down a visiting speaker at Oxford isn't in his best interests, and that a ban on protesting is what's needed now, a self-imposed ban, not one imposed on him.  If he's successful, if he eventually obtains tenure, he may or may not decide that he can take greater risks. There's an alternative explanation, that he decided that his actions had been frivolous, futile, fatuous ...

From the Website of Jesus College, on the  English course:

'The English course is extremely demanding ... Our students think in original and imaginative ways, and are willing to pursue ideas, themes, and approaches to texts independently.'

And, ' you need to be able to read widely but also in close detail; to understand the sweep of historical change while also being able to meditate on the nuances of a single word.'

Can Owen Holland meditate on the nuances of a single word, such as the word 'epistles' in the poem he declaimed? Why not 'letters' rather than the obsolescent word 'epistles?' (Gerard Manley Hopkins: 'The poetical language of an age should be the current language heightened, to any degree heightened and unlike itself, but obsolete one.' (Letter - not 'epistle' - to Robert Bridges, 14 August, 1879.)

Of course, harshness takes very different forms and to very different degrees, but I think that the academic world is a harsh place in many ways. Becoming an academic isn't always difficult but very often it is, and of course there are many, many people who fail to find an academic post. Being an academic involves harshness - academics play a part in failing students, or awarding degrees which are bitterly disappointing to students, who expected a much better degree, possible outcomes whenever they mark examanition scripts. I've absolutely no power, of course, to give Owen Holland his first real academic post, or to refuse him. All I've done is to write and publish some harsh criticisms of him, with arguments and evidence (I'm aware that providing arguments and evidence isn't the fashion in some places.) 

I oppose unrestrained warfare and I oppose unrestrained polemics as well. I removed a profile from this page - not the profile of an academic - when I found that the person I'd written about had serious health issues. I wish Owen Holland well. I think that Cambridge University and many other universities need to take their duty of care to students very seriously. I share the view that students shouldn't be protected from the 'risks' of being exposed to certain opinions, that 'safe spaces,' spaces where students are protected from these opinions, are unnecessary, but I think that there are other risks which universities do need to take into account and where sympathetic action is sometimes needed.

Oxford University gives a comprehensive list of Owen Holland's Journal Articles and Chapters in Books, including these (I've no idea if he's a Marxist or not but it wouldn't surprise me in the least if he was.)

  • ‘Morris and Marxist Theory’, in The Ashgate Research Companion to William Morris, ed. Florence Boos (forthcoming)
  • ‘From the Place Vendôme to Trafalgar Square: Imperialism and Counter-hegemony in the 1880s Romance Revival’, Key Words: A Journal of Cultural Materialism, 14 (2016), 98-115

His internet writing isn't listed, of course, but internet materials can be very, very revealing. They certainly are in his case. He's the author of an article published on the site 'Lebanese Campaign for the Boycott of Zionism'

The title of his article is 'Why Boycotting Apartheid Israel Matters.'

To give one example, he writes about 'the attempted suppression of the Goldstone report'  but fails to mention that Goldstone later changed his mind, modified his views. I discuss the matter in detail in my section on Manchester University academics who, like Owen Holland, support boycotts of 'apartheid Israel.' I quote Goldstone on the subject:

'Richard Goldstone published a significant letter in the New York Times, 'Israel and the Apartheid Slander' on the claim that Israel is an 'apartheid state.' (November 1, 2011.) Extracts:

'The Palestinian Authority’s request for full United Nations membership has put hope for any two-state solution under increasing pressure. The need for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians has never been greater. So it is important to separate legitimate criticism of Israel from assaults that aim to isolate, demonize and delegitimize it.
One particularly pernicious and enduring canard that is surfacing again is that Israel pursues “apartheid” policies. In Cape Town starting on Saturday, a London-based nongovernmental organization called the Russell Tribunal on Palestine will hold a “hearing” on whether Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid. It is not a “tribunal.” The “evidence” is going to be one-sided and the members of the “jury” are critics whose harsh views of Israel are well known.
While “apartheid” can have broader meaning, its use is meant to evoke the situation in pre-1994 South Africa. It is an unfair and inaccurate slander against Israel, calculated to retard rather than advance peace negotiations.
'In assessing the accusation that Israel pursues apartheid policies, which are by definition primarily about race or ethnicity, it is important first to distinguish between the situations in Israel, where Arabs are citizens, and in West Bank areas that remain under Israeli control in the absence of a peace agreement.
'In Israel, there is no apartheid. Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid under the 1998 Rome Statute: “Inhumane acts ... committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”Israeli Arabs — 20 percent of Israel’s population — vote, have political parties and representatives in the Knesset and occupy positions of acclaim, including on its Supreme Court. Arab patients lie alongside Jewish patients in Israeli hospitals, receiving identical treatment.

'The situation in the West Bank is more complex. But here too there is no intent to maintain “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group.” ... until there is a two-state peace, or at least as long as Israel’s citizens remain under threat of attacks from the West Bank and Gaza, Israel will see roadblocks and similar measures as necessary for self-defense, even as Palestinians feel oppressed. As things stand, attacks from one side are met by counterattacks from the other. And the deep disputes, claims and counterclaims are only hardened when the offensive analogy of “apartheid” is invoked.
Those seeking to promote the myth of Israeli apartheid often point to clashes between heavily armed Israeli soldiers and stone-throwing Palestinians in the West Bank, or the building of what they call an “apartheid wall” and disparate treatment on West Bank roads. While such images may appear to invite a superficial comparison, it is disingenuous to use them to distort the reality. The security barrier was built to stop unrelenting terrorist attacks; while it has inflicted great hardship in places, the Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the state in many cases to reroute it to minimize unreasonable hardship. Road restrictions get more intrusive after violent attacks and are ameliorated when the threat is reduced.'
'Jewish-Arab relations in Israel and the West Bank cannot be simplified to a narrative of Jewish discrimination. There is hostility and suspicion on both sides. Israel, unique among democracies, has been in a state of war with many of its neighbors who refuse to accept its existence ... '

In his Lebanese article, Owen Holland writes, ''Small wonder ... that the Falls Road Murals in Belfast paint pictures of solidarity with Palestinian suffering.' He provides a link to images of some murals, including one which shows Bobby Sands. This is another Belfast mural showing the hunger striker.

Image result for "bobby sands" "falls road"

This is another, with the names of assorted hunger strikers. The first two in the lists are Bobby Sands and Francis Hughes. The slogan includes this, 'Our rulers will stop at nothing to attain their ends.'

Image result for "francis hughes" wandbild

A page on this site Ireland and Northern Ireland: distortions and illusions gives my criticisms of Irish nationalism. A section Seamus Heaney and the hunger strikers on another page gives information about these two and other people commemorated in murals on the Falls Road and some other parts of Belfast:

'In 1978, a bomb exploded under the car of William Gordon, a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment who was taking his children to primary school. He was killed instantly, as was  his ten year old daughter, Lesley, who was decapitated. His seven year old son Richard was severely injured by the blast.

'The bomb was planted by Francis Hughes. The year before, he had taken part in an attack on a police vehicle in which one man was killed and another wounded. In 1978, Francis Hughes was captured, after a gun battle in which one soldier was killed and another severely wounded. After his capture, his fingerprints were found on a car used during the killing of a 77 year old Protestant woman.

'This is the man, then, who has been described as 'an absolute fanatic,' 'a ruthless killer' who undertook a hunger strike and was the second man to die ...

'The best known of the ten hunger strikers who died is Bobby Sands. From the site ' ... in October 1972 ... he was arrested and charged with possession, after an arms dump containing four handguns were found in a safe house in which he was staying. Sentenced to three years imprisonment ...

'Within six months he was arrested again. This time he and a nine man team had been assembled. Their target - The Balmoral Furniture Company on the Upper Dunmurry Lane.

' ... The IRA had targeted the store, in the full knowledge of the risk to staff and shoppers ... The only reason that Republicans can cite for the attack was “...the extravagantly-priced furniture it sold…”. The plan was to petrol bomb the premises and then to lay explosive charges to spread the flames.'

'Information about the other hunger strike

rs who died - their names, organizations (INLA is 'Irish National Liberation Army) and convictions - by 'convictions' I mean, of course, 'reason for imprisonment,' not 'desire to bring about a united Ireland by shooting and bombing.' These men, like Francis Hughes and Bobby Sands, would have been the beneficiaries of Seamus Heaney's translation from Dante if he hadn't changed his mind.

'Raymond McCreesh, IRA. Attempted murder, possession of a rifle, IRA membership
'Patsy O’Hara, INLA. Possession of a hand grenade
'Joe McDonnell, IRA. Possession of a firearm
'Martin Hurson, IRA. Attempted murder, involvement in explosions, IRA membership
'Kevin Lynch, INLA. Stealing shotguns, taking part in a punishment shooting
'Kieran Doherty, IRA. Possession of firearms and explosives, hijacking
'Thomas McElwee, IRA, Manslaughter
'Michael Devine, INLA. Theft and possession of firearms.

'The INLA is less well known than the IRA but was just as ruthless. Dominic McGlinchey, Chief of Staff of the INLA between 1982 - 1984, had operated with Francis Hughes. 'He once boasted to an Irish reporter that he had murdered at least thirty people.' After the bombing of a pub in Ballykelly, which 'killed seventeen people, eleven of them soldiers and four of them young women ... McGlinchey became the most wanted man in Ireland.' (Jack Holland, 'Hope against History: The Ulster Conflict.')

From the section on this page, Manchester University: boycotting, BDS and 'apartheid:'

'This Website doesn't give information about named students, undergraduate or graduate. It used to have information about a very few students, not at Manchester University, but I deleted it, except in the case of one graduate student who became an academic, Dr Therese Jonsson, and one student at Cambridge who is now a Career Development Fellow now at Oxford, Dr Owen Holland. I've no intention of ever naming and criticizing someone who is still a student.

'I loathe the idiocies of 'safe spaces,'' the stifling of dissent which is promoted by so many student unions, by so many students, I loathe the support of so many students for Israeli Apartheid Week - although they amount to a small minority of the student body -  but I think that time at university, amongst other things, will always be a time for making mistakes. I support the need to discipline students in some cases - putting up banners at a height on a university building is one instance which justifies sanctions, for the reasons I've given - but I think that the sanction, in general, shouldn't be a very harsh one. As I've explained, there are problems and difficulties which may well follow a student for a very long time, once an issue gets into the public domain.

I intend to discuss aspects of university education on a new page, 'Universities.' As yet, this is a page with no content. I intend to include a wide range of material, to give one example, further discussion of the Cambridge English Faculty. When this new page is launched, some of the material in this section will be relocated.

I intend to include material which concerns course structures and changes of mind. I think that course structure at Cambridge University is far superior to course structure at Oxford University in one very important respect. The tripos system at Cambridge is very flexible. Far more often than not, the successful applicant is young, still at school or another pre-university institution, with interests which may well change significantly. An interest in one particular subject may well be replaced by an interest in a completely different subject. At Oxford University, changes of mind can often be accommodated at a very early stage in the course - it's possible for someone offered a place in music to change to study of law - but so far as I know, later changes of mind aren't possible. At Cambridge, students who find that they have an interest in a completely different subject can change direction very easily, in many cases, by taking part of a completely different tripos subject. A course unit system is even more flexible. At Oxford, and, of course, many other universities, students who become interested in new fields of study, students who decide that they made the wrong choice of subject, are in a dilemma.

I intend to include criticism of Classics as a subject for study. At Oxford and Cambridge, undergraduates have to study Latin as well as Greek, Roman civilization and Greek civilization. I regard study of Greek language and civilization as very valuable, study of Latin and Roman civilization as not nearly as valuable.

Some materials on the site which give reasons for the opinion, in advance of fuller discussion: the section Bullfighting as an art form, bullfighting and tragedy, part of my page on bullfighting, which amongst other things compares and contrasts the Greek theatre at Epidauros and the Roman arena at Nimes, with references to Aristotle's 'Poetics,' Nietzsche's 'Thus spake Zarathustra' and George Steiner's 'The death of tragedy.'

And, on another page, Bullfighters, gladiators and university Classics and Seamus Heaney, Mary Beard and the Colosseum.

Another strand: an appreciation of university engineering, particularly structural engineering, civil engineering, mechanical engineering and chemical engineering, as well as science. Purely an appreciation: given the massive extent and complexity of these fields, this is necessarily a token gesture, but, given the extent of my appreciation, it feels like something much more than a token gesture.

Another strand: an appreciation of the Humanities, of studies with no obvious utility as well as studies which are obviously useful. Amongst other things, the importance of historical studies, which may be very useful, indispensable, as well as overwhelmingly important in the lessening of parochialism. The importance of social and economic history, the history of science and the history of technology. The importance languages, again, overwhelmingly important in the lessening of parochialism. My own priorities are German, Italian and a number of Slavonic languages, as well as Classical Greek - and, for me, Dutch/Flemish and the French which is the French of part of Belgium and part of Switzerland and part of Canada, Quebec - although Proust and Victor Hugo, amongst so many others, are powerful arguments for the importance of the French of France. Even Latin has its indispensable wonders, mirabile dictu.

Dr Priyamvada Gopal's Rules of Etiquette

Above, at a demonstration in Paris against the death penalty in Iran. The poster includes an image of preparations to stone a woman to death, almost certainly for adultery. The Iranian regulations specify that the stones must not be so large that they cause death quickly.

This section also contains material on Katharine Jenkins, once a Junior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge, now an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Nottingham University. Together with many, many Iranian academics and students, she signed a statement which included the loathsome claim of Israel's  'continual abuse of the legacy of the holocaust.' The material will be extended and included in a separate profile of Professor Jenkins, like Dr Gopal a prominent feminist as well as anti-Israeli signer. She studied for a PhD degree at Sheffield University. Her supervisors were Professor Miranda Fricker and Professor Jennifer Saul, whose profile appears in the page on feminism.

Etiquette, entry in Collins English Dictionary: '1. The customs or rules governing behaviour regarded as correct or acceptable in social or official life.' In this case, 'correct or acceptable' behaviour in the case of visiting speakers at universities and 'correct or acceptable' treatment of people who belong to the 'lower orders,' such as myself.

Very, very unwisely, Dr Priyamvada Gopal  has made  completely clear her view of what was  'correct or acceptable' when David Willetts came to speak at Cambridge University and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to speak at Columbia University. David Willetts was Minister of State for Universities and Science from 2010 to 2014. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was President of Iran from 2005 to 2013.

The protest that gave  David Willetts no chance to speak is described in the previous section.

The YouTube video which records the protest:

She was completely in agreement with the protest, including the chant beginning at 11.45.

What about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? In the image above, a woman is shown about to be stoned to death in Iran. Whilst he was President, about 6 people were stoned to death. For example, in 2009, two people were stoned to death in Mashhad  for adultery.  The 2008 Islamic Penal Code specifies the size of the stones to be used - the stones are not to be so large that they will kill quickly.

In 2005, Mohser Amir-Aslani was arrested for 'insulting the prophet Jonah' and for making changes in religion. He was executed in 2014.

Iran has been a prolific executioner of homosexual/gay people. Any kind of sexual activity between two partners other than in a heterosexual marriage is illegal. According to Amnesty International, about 5000 men and women have been executed for same-sex activity since the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1979. Female homosexuality is treated more leniently than male homosexuality, but this is Iranian Islamist leniency, not leniency as we know it. Lesbian acts (mosahegheh) between people who are mature, of sound mind, and consenting can be punished by 50 lashes. If the act is repeated three times and punishment is enforced each time, the death sentence applies on the fourth occasion.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems to have overlooked the many people executed in Iran for same-sex relations when he claimed,

"'In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country ... In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who's told you that we have this.'

On the Holocaust (statement of September, 2009.):

'They [the Western powers] launched the myth of the Holocaust. They lied, they put on a show and then they support the Jews."

Wikipedia is obviously a source of information which is vastly less important than the sources of information available to Cambridge academics - or is it? Not always. This is an invaluable Wikipedia article  on the 'International Conference to review the global vision of the Holocaust in Tehran.'

 The Iranian President's comment on the terrorist attacks of 9/11:

'Some segments within the American government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy, and its grips on the Middle East, in order to save the Zionist regime.'

 And, on a lighter note, in December 2005, he banned Western music from state-run TV stations. In July 2010, he issued a statement on the wearing of ties:

'The supreme guide [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] himself has said in a fatwa that the wearing of ties or bow ties is not permitted.'

What does Dr Gopal's rule book have to say about the proper way to receive such a guest speaker?  Very, very unwisely, she put it in writing. Lee Bollinger had referred to the President as a 'petty and cruel dictator.' Dr Gopal referred to this as 'demeaning.' She couldn't possibly agree with this breach of decorum. She wrote,

'There is no excuse for inviting an elected leader to talk at your university only to undermine him as lacking in "intellectual courage" before he has had a chance to speak.'

I emailed some members of the English faculty, including Dr Gopal, to draw their attention to this section. We exchanged emails, only two (most of them received just one)  and I thought that was that. After some time, she sent me this email. It was obvious she didn't like what I'd written, not one bit. Instead of defending her view of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and giving her reasons why David Willetts should be treated much more harshly, instead of opposing my arguments and evidence by giving arguments and evidence of her own, she chose the easier way:

'I just thought you'd like to know that every time you send one of these emails it causes huge ripples of merriment. What a sad sack you are ! Get a life, kid.


 I would have thought that 'Get a life' is a kids' phrase. Someone with a PhD, a fellowship at Churchill College Cambridge and a post in the Faculty of English at Cambridge can do much better than that. If they can't, then so much the worse for the Faculty of English.

I sent her this reply:

Dear Dr Gopal,

I'm dismayed by your recent email:

'I just thought you'd like to know that every time you send one of these emails it causes huge ripples of merriment. What a sad sack you are ! Get a life, kid.'

Most of all, this part, 'What a sad sack you are!Get a life, kid.'

I know there are many demands on your time, but I ask you to retract this part of your email. I don't think you can possibly justify it. If you're not willing to retract it, then I ask that you give me permission to quote it.

You may wonder, why don't I just go ahead and quote it? Why do I need to ask? For this reason, that I've a policy on quoting emails sent to me, and this is it:

'Emails sent to me won't be released into the public domain, including publication on this site, unless I have the permission of the sender. Anyone who emails me can criticize me as much as they want and the matter will remain private.'

You can do one of these things:

Email me to tell me that I shouldn't quote the email. In that case I won't quote it. It will remain private.

Email me to tell me that I can quote it. If so, then I'll quote it.

Or do nothing. If I don't hear from you in the next few days, I'll assume that you don't particularly mind if I do mention it.

Best Wishes,

Paul Hurt

She chose the third option. I haven't heard any more from her, so I'm quoting her email now.

She urges me to 'get a life, kid.' I don't have to painstakingly give evidence to the contrary and then ask her to reconsider. I'll just mention, though, a few things.

The section on Owen Holland mentions his views on Northern Ireland. More on Northern Ireland here:

'I lived in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, when the Troubles were at their worst. My visits to Belfast left an indelible impression but I was based in one of the safest areas of Northern Ireland. Even so, a few days before I left the Province for England, I heard a massive explosion in Coleraine which killed six pensioners and injured 44 people, including schoolchildren. I believe that the engine of the car bomb ended up in the barber's where I had my hair cut a week or two before.

'Above, the effects of the car bomb planted by the Provisional IRA in Coleraine, County Londonderry.

'From the Wikipedia entry on the bombing:

' 'Several of the wounded were maimed and left crippled for life. The bomb left a deep crater in the road and the wine shop was engulfed in flames; it also caused considerable damage to vehicles and other buildings in the vicinity. Railway Road was a scene of carnage and devastation with the mangled wreckage of the Ford Cortina resting in the middle of the street, the bodies of the dead and injured lying in pools of blood amongst the fallen masonry and roof slates, and shards of glass from blown-out windows blanketing the ground. Rescue workers who arrived at the scene spoke of "utter confusion" with many people "wandering around in a state of severe shock". Five minutues later, the second bomb went off in the forecourt of Stuart's Garage in Hanover Place. Although this explosion caused no injuries, it added to the panic and confusion yielded by the first bomb.


'I 'n the immediate aftermath of the blast, there had been several seconds of "deathly silence" before "all hell broke loose", with hysterical people rushing from the scene and others going to tend the wounded who were screaming in agony.'

'See also my poem Sailing from Belfast, at the time of the Troubles.'

And, for something completely different, the page Gardening / construction: introduction, with photographs. Although it's a page on this Website, obviously, it's a record of some of my activities away from the computer.

Dr Katharine Jenkins gives readers  an outline of some of her activities on the Website of Nottingham University, in the 'Biography' section: 'When I'm not doing philosophy (and sometimes when I am) I enjoy hiking, climbing, knitting, sewing, and playing board games, card games, and role playing games.' I think I can do the same on my own Website, give some indication of my activities 'when not opposing people who think that Israel, and not, let's say, Iran is one of the worst states in the world or by far the worst state.' It may also suggest to Dr Gopal that I've no need of her patronising suggestions or orders to 'Get a life.'

The page that gives information abou Professor Jenkins

has the heading,

University of Nottingham UK and also 'China' and 'Malaysia.'

Human rights abuses are endemic in China but the record of Malaysia is abysmal too, if not nearly as abysmal as China's. When I was an active member of Amnesty International, I urged Amnesty International to take human rights abuses in China much more seriously - after the usual bureacratic manoeuvres, a motion to that effect was passed overwhelmingly at the Amnesty International AGM.

This year, I added practically nothing to the Website for about 8 months. The page records some of my activity in that time, in caring for wildlife (the construction of a new pond has benefitted  frogs and now provides a habitat for dragonflies as well as damselflies to use), saving resources (the construction of a water-collecting surface to supply the pond), constructing a straw bale building (to house the hydraulic apple-pressing machinery I've designed and constructed - I've also designed and constructed machinery for cutting and bending sheet metal) and all the activities in  the orchard and growing beds which are needed to supply me with fruit and vegetables (I'm self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables to a very large extent). Except for a garden shed, all  the buildings and other constructions on this land, and there are many of them, are ones I've designed and built myself. In building and in growing, aesthetic values as well as practicalities are very important to me. If I can create beauty as well as feed myself, and others, so much the better.

My background is working class industrial Yorkshire. My first job was as a builder's labourer.

I do what I can to draw attention to the cruelties in Iran, but I've worked on a wide range of countries. From my page on the death penalty, quoting a reply from the then Minister of Education in Malawi after he'd received my letter on the political situation in Malawi and the death penalty. I'm very grateful to him for this heartening letter:

Dear Mr Hurt,

'Thank you for your letter of 9th February. I am encouraged greatly by your kind remarks about the situation in Malawi.

'We were indeed very fortunate that Malawi experienced such a peaceful transition from a vicious one-party dictatorship to a multi-party democracy. It was partly because we were convinced that some of the people who had been sentenced to death were not really guilty of the offences that we commuted all death sentences on the president's inauguration day in May 1994.

'The death sentence however has not yet been formally abolished in this country. The matter was discussed extensively during the recent Constitutional Conference and the delegates decided to retain it. This decision ties up the hands of the government, much against its own will. We are only hoping that with civic education the body of public opinion will swing towards the abolition of the death sentence.

'You can rest assured however that no executions have taken place since the new government took over.'

There have been no executions since then. Malawi is an abolitionist de facto state.

Writing in 'The New Statesman,' Dr Gopal made this  comment,

'For daring to read a poem to David Willetts, the student has had his prospects ruined.' Not so. As I explain in the profile above, he's now a Career Development Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford.

She also writes,

'No combination in the world is more lethal than that of byzantine feudalism and gung-ho corporate technocracy. Cambridge PhD student Owen Holland ran afoul of it last December when he participated in a 'people's mic' where dozens of students and a handful of dons told the visiting minister for Universities and Science what they thought of his destructive policies.The group collectively recited at David Willetts: "You have professed your commitment/to the religion of choice/but you leave us with no choice . . . your gods have failed." '

What? 'No combination in the world' more lethal than 'byzantine feudalism and gung-ho corporate technocracy?'

Are you sure? Is your understanding of real

ity that defective? Can't you possibly imagine anything worse than 'byzantine feudalism and gung-ho corporate technocracy' at Cambridge University? If so, I think you've led a much more sheltered and much more privileged life than I have.

My employment certainly seems to have been more varied. It includes a year working in a grim Victorian asylum building with varied duties, including wiping the bums of geriatric patients. I'd have to say that wiping the bums of geriatric patients is a more pleasant experience than being lectured to by one or two arseholes at Cambridge University. Please excuse the intemperate language. It must be my working class upbringing showing. Dr Gopal, you seem to do a great deal of lecturing, apart from lecturing your students in lecture theatres. If you ever feel inclined to lecture non-university people again, and particularly people in an older age group, you'd do well to avoid phrases like 'What a sad sack you are! Get a life, kid.' Otherwise, you may get a reputation for patronising and demeaning language, and even a reputation as a First Class (not a 2: 1) Arsehole. I realize that according to one influential view, very common in universities, only white males like me can use 'patronising' and 'demeaning' language - so much the worse for ideology.

I don't know nearly enough about Dr Gopal to make sweeping, wide-ranging criticisms. She didn't know nearly enough about me to make the moronic comment 'Get a life, kid,' but went ahead anyway - and was so clueless that she allowed the moronic comment to be put into the public domain. All she had to do was email me to say that she didn't want this comment of hers to be published. It would have taken next to no time.

Dr Gopal may well be a delightful person with many strengths. All I do here is point out some weaknesses which accompany whatever strengths she may have.

I'm surprised that Dr Gopal and other people in the Cambridge English Faculty found such 'merriment' in my emails. In almost all cases, these people have received only one email. They were factual. I simply drew their attention to the material on this page. I did, though, take the trouble to find out more, sometimes much more, about the person I was emailing, and changed the wording of the emails accordingly.

This is an extract from Dr Gopal's 'Selected Publications' on the Faculty of English Website,

  • "Of Capitalism and Critique: 'Af-Pak Fiction in the Wake of 9/11" in Alex Tickell(ed) South-Asian Fiction in English: Contemporary Transformations. Palgrave MacMillan, 2016, pp 21-36.

  • "Redressing anti-imperial amnesia" in Race and Class, January–March 2016 vol. 57 no. 3, pp.18-30.

  • "The Limits of Hybridity: Language and Innovation in Anglophone Postcolonial Poetry" in The Routledge Companion to Experimental Literature, 
    Routledge, 2012
  • The Indian English Novel: Nation, History and Narration, Oxford University Press (2009)
  • "The 'Moral Empire': Africa, Globalisation and the Politics of Conscience", New Formations: a Journal of Culture/Theory/Politics, ed. Priyamvada Gopal and Neil Lazarus 59, 2006, 81-97
  • Literary Radicalism in India: Gender, Nation and the Transition to Independence, Routledge, 2005, 173
  • "Reading Subaltern History", Cambridge Companion to Postcolonial Literary Studies, Ed. Neil Lazarus, Cambridge University Press, 2004, 139-161
  •  "Amitav Ghosh", World Writers in English, Ed. Jay Parini, New York: Gale, 2004
  • "Sex, Space and Modernity in the Work of Rashid Jahan, 'Angareywali'", Marxism, Modernity and Postcolonialism, Cambridge University Press, 2002, 150-66
  • "Frantz Fanon, Feminisim and the Question of Relativism", New Formations 47 (Summer 2002), 2002, 38-43
  • "'Curious Ironies: Matter and Meaning in Bhabani Bhattacharya's Novel of the 1943 Bengal Famine", ARIEL: A Review of International English Literatures 32:3, July 01, 2001, 61-88
  •  'Nationalist thought and the Postcolonial world', Review, Textual Practice Spring 2001, 2001, 173-79

This is supplementary material. I can't claim that it's essential to the flow of argument and evidence.

If I understand her rightly, Dr Gopal believes that her own experiences in life  have been much richer than mine. (I think it's overwhelmingly likely that she has the advantage over me when it comes to monetary advantage. She may not be a very big earner, but I think I've been much nearer the poverty line throughout.)

I'll 'share' (as they write more and more often nowadays) one more set of experiences which came my way - my experience of being homeless, if only for a short time. For quite a number of years, I lived in bed-sitter land, in Manchester (to be more exact, Stretford), and, for much longer, in South London and Sheffield. I've an abiding memory in particular of those flimsy Wardrobes picked up by the landlord to furnish those one-room places.

When I lived in London, I found out - all the residents found out - that the Landlord shouldn't have been letting the place at all. It was against the terms of his mortgage. It looked as if we might soon be evicted, even though we'd paid the rent conscientiously. With another tenant, I attended the court hearing to decide the fate of the house and our fate. The panoply of the law was impressive - the dignity of the judge, the judge's robes, the measured tones of counsel, the formal attire of counsel, the solid good taste of the court furnishings - but one thing did cause irritation. The tenant I went with was able to put a question to the judge: 'So far as the law is concerned, then, we can all sleep in the park tonight?' I forget the exact answer of the judge, but it was very short - something like 'Exactly,' or 'Precisely.' The mortgage company was given re-possession of the house.

We got back to the house and within a short time, sure enough, the bailiffs arrived. We were ejected and they boarded the place up. My possessions didn't amount to much and I was able to carry them very easily - they all fitted into one suitcase, except for my cello, which I carried in the other hand.

The landlord was a good type, and he allowed me to sleep on the floor of his own house until I found some other place to rent, which I did, quickly enough. So it all ended happily and I think it ended happily for everyone else. Unlike the vast majority of homeless people, we were fortunate.

Speaking of the cello, I wonder how some of Dr Gopals' views on literature would work out if transferred to music. My interest in music is very strong. I very much like music written for sitar and tabla but my main interest is in so-called 'classical music,' not all of which uses classical forms - to give just a few examples, the music of J S Bach, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Shostakovich as well as the music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

I never played the cello at a high level, but good enough to play in string quartets and orchestras, and to play in public performances. I switched from the cello to the violin and viola. The skills aren't transferable to any extent (of course, violin technique is easily transferable to the viola) and so years of learning were required. For long periods, I practised for about two hours a day at least. I kept the cello but it was stolen in a burglary at this house, perhaps by a cello-playing burglar who wanted a spare cello. I don't play the violin and viola but I still have the instruments. Neither is very valuable in monetary terms but I like to see them hanging there, the wood of the violin dark and sombre, the wood of the viola much lighter but rich and almost glowing.

Dr Gopal wants to see less emphasis upon, less time devoted to, white male writers. I wonder if followers of Dr Gopal, the ones with a strong interest in music, would like there to be less music played by white male composers, such as the ones I've mentioned. What would be the response of audiences? I think it can be argued - or it has to be conceded - that most if not all composers of the first rank have so far been white males.

This is only a short discussion, so I needn't discuss the difficulties and complexities of the term 'first rank' and other aspects of the problem.

In general, the building of concert halls - the Royal Albert Hall and so many others - the establishment of orchestras and music schools, was far more often the work of men than women - as a matter of strict fact. It can't be claimed that women now couldn't possibly build concert halls, establish orchestras and found music schools. These are things achieved after overcoming much harder obstacles than any obstacles, real or claimed, imposed by 'patriarchy.'

People who feel very strongly - not necessarily women, of course - that the musical establishment emphasizes the achievement of white males too much should consider the greater task of building new concert halls to perform the music of composers who aren't, or weren't, white males and to establishe new orchestras and new music schools with the same objective - instead of taking the much easier course of changing the policies of established institutions.

Similar arguments could be made in the case of literature. Fairly recently, the University of Buckingham was opened, with a distinct ethos. Why not establish a new university, many new universities, in accordance with a different principle - far less emphasis on white males? Your disagreement with the policies of Cambridge University is very marked. You write of the University's 'Byzantine feudalism and gung-ho corporate technocracy.' What are you waiting for? Those Victorian men faced far greater difficulties, many of them. Dr Gopal may not have very much interest in engineering - I certainly do - but she would do well to find out more about the atrocious difficulties faced by engineers in the Victorian era, difficulties overcome again and again.

Not all critics have to be respected or taken seriously. There are armchair critics, whose level of activity is very, very low,  and there are critics like Dr Gopal, superficially much more active, but not nearly as dynamic as they would like to think. Given the fact that Dr Gopal seems not to have set out in any detail, if at all, her objections to Israel and her reply to pro-Israeli arguments and evidence, I think she's fairly close to being considered an armchair critic - and the same for the majority of the anti-Israel signers at Cambridge University and other places. I don't think I can be accused of being an armchair critic of these people. I've spent a great deal of time on the issues. Dr Gopal is happy to leave the arguiments and evidence I've produced unanswered, with a display of superficial superiority: 'Get a life, kid.' Sorry, it won't work, it isn't good enough - although it may work for your easily-satisfied, perhaps self-satisfied colleagues in the anti-Israel Industry.

Dr Gopal may or may not know something about the disruption of the Proms concert by people who share her antipathy to Israel - the orchestra was the Israel Philharmonic - and the disruption of the Jerusalem String Quartet's Concert at the Wigmore Hall. I've written about these protests at length. My loathing for the protesters is made very clear, I hope. I write about some of them in profiles on this page.

Dr Gopal is a multifarious writer and (misguided) activist, so my discussion has ranged widely, making full use of supplementary material.

Now, information about one more case in Iran - I want to do more to disturb Dr Gopal's apparent complacency about conditions in the country.

Iran is the most prolific executioner in the world now, after China, executing political prisoners, homosexuals, dissidents, people found guilty of 'enmity against God' and young teenagers - including a 16 year old schoolgirl, Atefeh Rajabi Sahaaleh, on charges of adultery and 'crimes against chastity.' Like the woman in the image above, she was hanged fom a crane in public.

Haji Rezai was the prosecutor, judge and witness in the trial of Atefeh Rajabi Sahaaleh. He also tortured Atefeh, and he was the hangman. He placed the noose around her neck before she was hoisted on a crane. He was insistent that the verdict and sentence complied with the laws of Islam. No charges have been brought against him. The Supreme Court of Iran gave an order that Atefeh should be freed, although the Court was already aware that she had been executed.

Previously, she had been arrested three times by the Moral Police and convicted of having sex with unmarried men. For each offence, she was imprisoned and given 100 lashes - the punishment for single women.

When she appeared in court for having sex with a taxi driver, she removed her hijab at one point. This was regarded as severe contempt of court. No lawyer was provided. She appealed against her death sentence but no lawyer was provided for the appeal.' 

I notice, Dr Gopal, that you describe the piece which denounced David Willetts as a poem. I think you'd have to concede, Dr Gopal, that Cambridge University pays you, amongst other things, for matters to do with words and their use in literature, not for denouncing David Willetts and Israel. The last time I checked, you were described as a member of the Faculty of English at Cambridge. Is your understanding of poetry so defective that you can describe it as poetry?  Owen Holland did claim, in the so-called poem,

... we are schooled
in a different kind of pedagogy.

Those protesting students certainly are schooled in a different kind of pedagogy. They're right about that at least. And where were they schooled in this different kind of pedagogy? At  Cambridge University. This alternative pedagogy led them to chant such lines as these and mistake them for poetry, unless they had inner reservations and weren't quite so easily fooled. Did Dr Gopal have inner reservations about the lines or is she easily fooled?

So we are climbing into the driving seat
because your steering is uncomfortable to us
and your destination
is not of our choosing.


So let us begin
by activating the emergency brake.

Dr Gopal sees no objection to these lines addressed to David Willetts in what she ignorantly calls 'a poem' What about these hysterical lines?



... you come with a knife
concealed beneath your cloak


We have already seen
the fixed gaze of the hired assassin.

Dr Gopal was one of the Cambridge academics who signed a document calling for an academic boycott of Israeli universities. Another was Dr Lorna Finlayson, at the ime at Kings College, Cambridge, now at Essex University.

The 'statement' was also signed by Katharine Jenkins, a Cambridge University graduate who at the time was a PhD student at Sheffield University. Her supervisors were Professor Miranda Fricker and Professor Jennifer Saul, who has a profile in my page on feminist ideology. She gained her PhD and became a junior research fellow at Jesus College Cambridge. She's now an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Arts at Nottingham University. According to the profile on the University's Website, her 'research is primarily in social philosophy, especially the ontology of social categories ... and how these categories are bound up with social injustices.' According to the profile on this Website - when it's finished - whatever may be Katharine Jenkins' understanding of the ontology of social categories, her understanding of social injustices (such as stoning to death in Iran and executions by hanging in Iran) is very, very defective. Her understanding of the Holocaust is very, very disturbing too. I only criticize Katharine Jenkins now because she's no longer a student - I make it clear on this page that I don't criticize undergraduate and graduate students. If the students go on to become academics, then immunity is lost.

Dr Lorna Finlayson, Philosopher Queen


The majestic dining hall of King's College, Cambridge, where Dr Lorna Finlayson, a Cambridge philosopher, has often dined and often spoken, perhaps on the subject of the oppression or disadvantage of feminists such as herself. She's now moved to Essex University. I think that this profile, like the profile of Rae Langton, gives disturbing insights into the state of Cambridge philosophy, or rather some Cambridge philosophy and the state of mind of some Cambridge philosophers. (Obviously, standards are outstanding far more often than abysmal.) Rae Langton is a Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge, and a more influential philosopher than Lorna Finlayson.   See  my profile of Rae Langton, who chaired a panel at a WOW (Women of the World) meeting which, according to the advance publicity material, would put forward a view which was deranged, if not as obviously deranged as the claim that Newton's Principia Mathematica is a 'rape manual,' since 'science is a male rape of female nature.' I think that Rae Langton should do some explaining. I explain why I think some explaining, and clarifying, would be advisable in the profile. 

I think of Lorna Finlayson as a Drama Queen but fully in the authoritarian tradition  to be found in Plato, criticized by Karl Popper in 'The Open Society and its Enemies.' I think that Lorna Finlayson is very much an enemy of the Open Society. The union of political power and philosophy would be anything but safe in her hands and in those of people like her.  She puts people in their place, or tries to.

In the Republic, Plato describes a utopia and argues that this utopia will never come into existence until kings philosophize or philosophers become kings. Political power and philosophy ( δύναμίς τε πολιτικὴ καὶ φιλοσοφία) must be in the same hands. (Book Five, 473 d.)

Lorna Finlayson's book 'Introduction to Feminism' is published by Cambridge University Press. I intend to provide a review of the book. Cambridge University Press doesn't appear to have published any books which give arguments against feminism. Perhaps the people at Cambridge University Press are unaware that there are arguments against feminism or refuse to examine them!  Perhaps standards of intellectual honesty at Cambridge University Press aren't uniformly excellent after all?  Perhaps Cambridge University's standards aren't uniformly excellent and beyond criticism?

See also my discussion of two ludicrous contributions to The Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney written by  Guinn Batten and Fran Brearton. Guinn Batten is a member of the department of 'Gender and Sexuality Studies' at Washington University in St Louis. Fran Brearton contributed an article 'Heaney and the Feminine' to the Cambridge Companion.

Fran Brearton: Bowdlerizing and Breartonizing

Guinn Batten and the drowned sheep

I write in my review, 'Amongst the  associations of the Cambridge name - better not to refer to the Cambridge 'brand' - are associations to do with excellence. 'The Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney' is hardly ever excellent. Instead,  the good, the not-so-bad, the bad and the shockingly bad.'

From the synopsis provided for Lorna Finlayson's Cambridge 'Introduction to Feminism.'

'As well as providing a clear and critical introduction to the theory, this refreshing overview focuses on the practice of feminism with coverage of actions and activism, bringing the subject to life for newcomers as well as offering fresh perspectives for advanced students.'

For the time being, I don't discuss her advanced views on feminism for advanced students of feminism but I do discuss her advanced criticism of free speech for advanced students of 'actions and activism' who would like to put a stop to excessive free speech. I also discuss her views on Israel, Iran, the Palestinians and Islamism, a section which includes severe challenges to her views.

On free speech, she has written,

'Not that people don’t in general talk enough about freedom of speech – it would be better if they talked about it a bit less.  But if people are going to talk about it, they may as well do it properly.'

In 'LF on free speech' she writes,


' ... this is one very valuable outcome of forcing David Willetts off the platform: ' ... an act of destroying certain possibilities' (the possibility of the government minister David Willetts speaking and the possibility that people who came to attend a talk given by David Willetts could actually listen to a talk by David Willetts)  'is always at the same time an act of creating further ones. One valuable thing that came out of the whole episode, to my mind, was that the idea of ‘freedom of speech’ got hauled out of its hiding place ... '

The context here, the disruption of a speech by David Willetts, is explained in my profile of  Jason Scott-Warren,  on my page Israel, Islamism and Palestinian ideology.

After the disruption of David Willetts' speech, there were now new opportunities, not so much for 'uninformed' people to discuss free speech, but opportunities to listen to people who do it 'properly,' such as Dr Finlayson. If radical Islamists prevent a talk by a non-believer from taking place then this too is creating new possibilities. If 'advanced transgender advocates' prevent a talk by someone they see as less advanced from taking place, such as a feminist whose view of transgender people isn't the same as theirs, if they force feminists 'off the platform,' then this too would be viewed as creating new possibilities, although it's obviously not creating new possibilities for the person who is prevented from speaking.

Transgender activists who prevent feminists such as  Julie Bindel and Julie Burchill  from speaking are badly mistaken but the defence of free speech should go well beyond a single issue. Feminists who object to the denial of free speech to some feminists but see nothing wrong with the denial of free speech to anti-feminists are badly mistaken too.

Dr Finlayson, philosopher, writes that 'in the immediate aftermath of the Willetts action, there was plenty of predictable, well-rehearsed, lazy, ‘free speech’- themed noise-making.'

In the the immediate aftermath of the Willetts action, there were plenty of predictable, well-rehearsed, lazy,  noise-making attempted justifications of shouting down a minister of a democracy, such as 'LF on free speech.'

She says of the invitation to David Willetts to speak, 'we regarded the event itself as an improper procedure.' She declares that it's improper so it must be improper. The dogmatic assumption, the unquestioned assumption of absolute rightness is completely obvious.  In 2013 she contributed to an event in Cambridge on various aspects of free speech. Her talk had the title, 'Free Speech as Liberal Fiction.'

See also Feminism and freedom of expression.

This is Paul Sagar's view of the protest which Lorna Finlayson took part in and which she defends:

'Willetts was introduced – with an explicit appeal for reasonable discussion – and the man himself took the stand. But as he began speaking, he was immediately interrupted. A single individual  [Owen Holland] began shouting.

'His every line was immediately repeated by 20-30 or so others. Thus began a long, ponderous series of declamations, bizarre poetic allegories, and varying denunciations of Willetts, his Government, the future of education, and everything in between.


'Willetts could not get a word in edge ways. The tension in the room was dramatic. It felt like it went on and on. Shout then chant, shout then chant ...


'When the “speech” from the floor was over, the instigators began chants of “Willetts Willetts Willetts, Out Out Out”, and surged forward. They took the stage. Willetts had already left. The event was abandoned. A hundred or so other people were forced to exit without being able to voice their opinion or take part in the public debate they were invited to attend.

I don't examine here the issue of free speech at the University of Essex. The page

does give a verdict, one which may or may not give a simplified view: 'The University of Essex and the University of Essex Students' Union collectively create a hostile environment for free speech.' A collective conclusion may well hide complexities, such as individuals who have many, many reservations about the policies of the 'collective,' individuals who are opposed to the policies of the 'collective.' I restrict myself here and discuss only Lorna Finlayson's hostility to free speech. I don't have anything like detailed knowledge of the Philosophy department of Essex University but from what I know, it's a very interesting department. The initiative to do with assessment, for example, is remarkable.

From 'The Guardian,' 15 February, 2015:

'We cannot allow censorship and silencing of individuals.'

'The fate of Kate Smurthwaite’s comedy show, cancelled by Goldsmith’s College in London last month ... is part of a worrying pattern of intimidation and silencing of individuals whose views are deemed “transphobic” or “whorephobic”. Most of the people so labelled are feminists or pro-feminist men, some have experience in the sex industry, some are transgender.

'Last month, there were calls for the Cambridge Union to withdraw a speaking invitation to Germaine Greer ... The feminist activist and writer Julie Bindel has been “no-platformed” by the National Union of Students for several years.

'You do not have to agree with the views that are being silenced to find these tactics illiberal and undemocratic. Universities have a particular responsibility to resist this kind of bullying. We call on universities and other organisations to stand up to attempts at intimidation and affirm their support for the basic principles of democratic political exchange.'

Followed by a large number of signatories.

The letter is a good one, but subject to {restriction}. A wider range of examples would have been far better. Free expression is a necessity for anti-feminists as well as feminists.

Dr Finlayson doesn't seem to support in the least the 'basic principles of democratic political exchange' and supports some attempts at intimidation. Does Lorna Finlayson, philosopher,  support the denial of free speech to feminists such as Julie Burchill and Julie Bindel? If she supports their right to speak freely at University events and other events, transphobic activists might well accuse her of minimizing the plight of transphobic people, according to their interpretation. She's supported no-platforming in the case of the minister David Willetts but doesn't support no-platforming in the case of Julie Burchill and Julie Bindel, critics of some aspects of transphobia activism? If so, activists might well conclude, 'What an insult to transphobic people!'


Lorna Finlayson certainly has philosophical abilities, evident in such an article as 'Kripke, names, and the necessary a priori' but in general, her world is far more dubious and disturbing than the world of  many Christians.


If the past is a foreign country, where they do things differently, the world of military actions, terrorism, fanaticism, intense loathing, fear and suspicion may well be a foreign country for anyone who writes about it from a perspective of safety in a world of reasoned discussion, such as discussion of Saul Kripke. (Fluency in French is of no help when the border has been crossed and what is needed now is fluency in Flemish.)

Lorna Finlayson  on the logician Kripke (followed immediately by Lorna Finlayson on the comedian Russell Brand):

'This is the structure of Kripke’s

(1) It is not conceivable that not-(H=P)7
(2) It is necessary that (H=P) [from (1)]
(3) It is knowable only a posteriori that (H=P)

Therefore, ‘H=P’ expresses a necessary truth knowable only a posteriori.

Premiss (1) seems correct. Kripke has given a convincing alternative explanation of the intuition that we can conceive of not-(H=P). But there is a tension between (1) and (3). Normally, if not-p is not conceivable, we can know a priori that p. For example, we cannot conceive of a married bachelor, and so we know a priori that all bachelors are not married. Yet Kripke seems to be suggesting that the whole of ancient Babylonian society failed to realise a truth of which the negation is inconceivable.'

In an article for the 'London Review of Books,' 'Brand v. Rawls,' Lorna Finlayson defends the comedian Russell Brand

She writes,

The inclusion of Russell Brand on
 Prospect’s annual list  of ‘world thinkers’ has been met with predictable outrage and ridicule. The Guardian said that his ‘presence looks designed to be provocative’. Reviewing Brand’s book Revolution for Prospect a few months ago, Robin McGhee attacked ‘Brand’s political stupidity’. At the same time, the Telegraph said that ‘Russell Brand’s politics are staggeringly stupid.’ The Spectator called him ‘an adolescent extremist whose hatred of politics is matched by his ignorance’. In the Observer, Nick Cohen once derided Brand’s ‘slack-jawed inability to answer simple questions’. Nathasha Lennard in Vice said she didn’t ‘think Brand is totally idiotic. But, to be clear, he is an idiot.’ Lorna Finlayson may not claim that Russell Brand is a political thinker on quite the same level as John Rawls, the author of 'A Theory of Justice,' or Plato, the author of 'The Republic,' or Aristotle, the author of 'Politics,' but she does seem to claim that he's a deep thinker.

Dr Paul Sagar of King's College, Cambridge, wrote a very interesting, very robust and very accomplished reply, published on the same page, which includes this (I don't claim, of course, that Paul Sagar necessarily agrees with my criticisms of Lorna Finlayson and of feminism):

'My colleague Dr. Finlayson’s blog piece cannot, I am afraid, pass without some comment. Partly this is because much of what she argues is dubious, or flatly false. Partly it is because others of us working in the field of political philosophy at the University of Cambridge would like to preserve our collective reputation as people who can, at the very least, do the basics. This makes for less oratorically spectacular grandstanding than Finlayson achieves. But there are principles worth standing up for, even if they make one unfashionable, perhaps even boring.

'I will pass over the question of whether Russell Brand is an idiot (although previous actions may lead us to believe that more than his Essex accent informs such conclusions*), and move straight to Rawls. Finlayson writes, “In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls argued that a just society is one in which things are as equal as possible without making everyone worse off”. This is an error so glaring one would not permit even a first year undergraduate to make it. Rawls’s claim is actually that “social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are…to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged” (A Theory of Justice, p. 83). There difference between what Finlayson says Rawls says, and what Rawls actually says, is enormous.'

The record of philosophy at Cambridge, past and present, is a record of very great achievement, including the contributions of Wittgenstein and G E Moore but so many others.



'Should fascists and/or racists be given a platform?' This is naive in the extreme. Now, 'racism' and 'fascism,' 'racist' and 'fascist' are used as all-purpose condemnation words, a facile way of establishing instant moral superiority, supposedly, with many, many meanings and many, many applications, spurious and otherwise.

Along with a large number of other people, including many from Iran, a country she obviously thinks is vastly superior to Israel, Dr Lorna Finlayson (at the time at King's College, Cambridge) signed a statement put out by 'Back the Boycott,' philosophers and political theorists for a boycott of Israel,' which called for the standard 'boycott, divestment and sanctions.'


So, Dr Lorna Finlayson (Signatory No. 11) condemns Israel,   'philosophers and political theorists' in Iran condemn Israel, 'philosophers and political theorists' in many other countries condemn Israel, and take the trouble to sign a statement.  Sometimes it can seem that the whole world condemns Israel. Fortunately, this is not so. There are still many, many people with other concerns and other priorities, including the people who organized the Paris demonstration against the use of the death penalty in Iran, difficult though it may be for many thinkers to comprehend this alarming event. What? A demonstration not aimed at Israel? The Palestinians not at the very centre of the moral universe? The universe not Palestino-centric? Heresy [Secular style] It's certain that there will be many statements condemning Israel in the future, demanding no more than the typing of a name and a few clicks of the mouse, giving further opportunities for Palestino-centric people, further opportunities  for the display of effortless moral superiority.

My page Israel, Islamism and Palestinian ideology: has more. There's an extract in the second column of this page.

 Dr Finlayson strongly opposes Israel, if only by signing the occasional statement, but I don't think it's likely that she will oppose Iran.


The statement made a comment on critics who are 'singling Israel out’.

'As many have persuasively argued over the last few weeks, it is Israel that singles itself out:  through its claims to moral impeccability, its celebrated status as a democracy, through its receipt of massive support from the US and other nations, and through its continual abuse of the legacy of the holocaust in order to deflect criticism and to discredit the Palestinian struggle.'

What? Its 'celebrated status as a democracy' is supposed to count against it? 'Abuse of the legacy of the holocaust' is beneath contempt.

The signers have an affiliation with man Iranian universities: Imam Sadiq university, which 'bridges the gap between the Islamic seminary and traditional university' according to Wikipedia, and which includes courses in criminal law and . Islamic jurisprudence, and the universities of Khajeh, Nasir al-din tusi,  Motahari, Shiraz, Semnan, Allaame tabaatabaae, Tarbiat Modares, Razi, Alzahra, Yazd, Monaghegh ardabili, Zanjan, Kharazmi, Mashahd and Tabriz.


Al-Quds is a Palestinian University. Brandeis University suspended its partnership with Al-Quds University on November 18, 2013, for reasons to do with a demonstration there:

'The Nov. 5 demonstration on the Al-Quds campus involved demonstrators wearing black military gear, armed with fake automatic weapons, and who marched while waving flags and raising the traditional Nazi salute. The demonstration took place in the main square of the Al-Quds campus, which was surrounded by banners depicting images of “martyred” suicide bombers.'

The President of Al-Quds university did condemn the demonstration, after the routine  sentiment with which his statement began, 'The university is often subjected to vilification campaigns by Jewish extremists ... '


'Iran is the most prolific executioner in the world now, after China, executing political prisoners, homosexuals, dissidents, people found guilty of 'enmity against God,' and a 16 year old schoolgirl, Atefeh Rajabi Sahaaleh, on charges of adultery and 'crimes against chastity.' She was hanged in public.

 'It's Israel which is described by the prominent anti-Israeli campaigner and disrupter Deborah Fink as 'The Satanic state.' It's likely that her attitude to Iran is much less critical.

 The former Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (who blamed the "Zionist regime" of Israel for starting both the First and Second World Wars), speaking to university students in the US, said that Iran is 'the only nation' that 'can offer a new model for life to the world.'


'Haji Rezai was the prosecutor, judge and witness in the trial of Atefeh Rajabi Sahaaleh. He also tortured Atefeh, and he was the hangman. He placed the noose around her neck before she was hoisted on a crane. He was insistent that the verdict and sentence complied with the laws of Islam. No charges have been brought against him. The Supreme Court of Iran gave an order that Atefeh should be freed, although the Court was already aware that she had been executed.


'Previously, she had been arrested three times by the Moral Police and convicted of having sex with unmarried men. For each offence, she was imprisoned and given 100 lashes - the punishment for single women. The punishment for married women is still technically stoning to death - stones which are not too large are specified, as large stones would cause death too quickly. Stoning to death is unlikely to be carried out in Iran now - which counts as progress. Even so, at least six people have been stoned to death in Iran since 2006.


'When she appeared in court for having sex with a taxi driver, she removed her hijab at one point. This was regarded as severe contempt of court. No lawyer was provided. She appealed against her death sentence but no lawyer was provided for the appeal.'

Dr Ian Patterson and 'unparalleled outrage'

Dr Patterson, of Queens College, was the supervisor of Owen Holland.

From the introduction to these profiles of academics, 'Some of the profiles of  academics give information about denial of free expression with a direct connection with the Israel-Palestinian conflict, others are concerned with denial of free expression with no direct connection with the Israel-Palestinian conflict. In all these cases, the academic has pro-Palestinian-anti-Israel views.' Dr Patterson is one of them.

From his LRB [London Review of Books] blog, 15 March, 2012:
' ... a sense of outrage and disbelief unparalleled in my experience spread through the university today ...
What was the massive human suffering or the massive injustice which occasioned this massive response, this unprecedented wave of outrage and disbelief in the Cambridge academic community, allegedly? Perhaps mass beheadings after extreme torture? He continues:
‘as it became known that the court had imposed a sentence of seven terms rustication ... [that is, suspension from the University, on the PhD student Owen Holland].
Is Dr Patterson in his right mind? Does he really want the wider world to take this extraordinary, misguided display of outrage as an extraordinary display of Cambridge humanitarianism, of Cambridge values and Cambridge priorities?

Dr Patterson, like Dr Zurcher, is a lecturer in the English faculty of Cambridge University. Both of them are members of Queens' College, and both of them actively supported the occupation of the Law Faculty buildings in supposed solidarity with Gaza, and the disruption of David Willetts' speech at Cambridge, which was led by Owen Holland. My profile of Dr Zurcher gives detailed information about both issues.

Ian Patterson's blog article includes this:

'I have to declare an interest ...  I’m Owen Holland’s second supervisor' and


'Milton and Dryden were both rusticated from Cambridge, it’s true, for quarrelling with college authorities, and Swinburne from Oxford for speaking in support of an attempt to assassinate Napoleon III, but I don’t think anyone has previously been punished in this way for reading a poem.'


To put this ludicrous display of anger in perspective, Hashem Shabaani, like Ian Patterson a poet and teacher - but there the resemblances end - was punished with a very different kind of suspension - hanging.  He was arrested in February 2011 with four other Iranian Arabs 'apparently in connection with their cultural activities, such as organizing events in the Arabic language, conferences, educational courses, art classes, and poetry recital gatherings' according to Amnesty International, sentenced to death in July 2012 for 'waging war against Allah, sowing corruption on earth, propaganda against the Islamic Republic and acting against national security,("waging war on God"), as well as "sowing corruption on earth, propaganda against the Islamic Republic and acting against national security and hanged at an undisclosed prison in January 2014.

To return to the injustice, or 'injustice,'  which angered Dr Patterson and the other letter-signers, including such Serial Signers as  Dr Zurcher (in  contrast with injustices in Iran, let's say) I emailed Dr Patterson:

I can make this profile of yourself fairer and better informed if I have some further information. Whether you provide the information is up to you.

'Did you take part in the protest against David Willetts? You were the supervisor of Owen Holland. Was the protest and the form the protest took his idea? Did he mention his intention of disrupting David Willett’s talk? If so, did you give him any advice? Did you warn him, for example, of the possibility of sanctions?'

[A further question now. Many academics signed a letter in support of Owen Holland when he was charged with ''recklessly or intentionally impeding free speech within the Precincts of the University' and a letter protesting against his suspension when the case against him was found to be proved. It might have been expected that you would sign both letters. You signed neither. I doubt very much if you suddenly decided that Owen Holland had only himself to blame, or that you were simply not aware of the letters until it was too late to sign them. Can you shed any light on these puzzling matters?]
'The profile includes a link to film of the event, which makes it perfectly clear that the sanction originally imposed was for much more than ‘reading a poem.’ You gave an evasive and distorted version of events.'

This is the link to 'Cambridge University students hijack talk by David Willetts, Minister for Higher Education 22/11/11.'

Owen Holland appealed against the suspension. 'The Cambridge Student' on the outcome: 'generosity.'

' ... the Septemviri [the University's Appeal Court] were at pains to point out the 'one-off' nature of their generosity: "We have therefore decided, but in this case only, to follow a merciful course."


'The Septemviri therefore reduced Holland's sentence from seven term's 'rustication' (or suspension) to one term on 22 June. This still means however that Holland, currently studying for a PhD in English at St Catharine's College, will be unable to use the University's premises and facilities, and will no longer officially be deemed a student of Cambridge University, for the duration of Michaelmas Term 2012, returning to the University at the start of 2013.

There's more on the reasons for the original sanction:


"brought his current misfortune on himself"


'The majority of the Chairman's report sets out in detail how the Septemviri upheld the original verdict of 'guilty' on the charge that Holland "had intentionally or recklessly impeded freedom of speech within the precincts of the University".

The charge relates to an incident on 22 November last year, when Universities Minister David Willetts was prevented from starting a lecture on "The Idea of the University" in Lady Mitchell Hall on the Sidgwick Site by around 30 students from activist group Cambridge Defend Education (CDE). As Willetts arrived at the lectern, the protesters began chanting a 25-minute poetic letter, or 'epistle', entitled "Go home, David", via call and response led by Owen Holland. After the chant finished, a group of around 20 protesters proceeded to occupy the stage. Upon this, Willetts left without giving his lecture, and the event was cancelled. The protest was followed by a week-long occupation of Lady Mitchell Hall by CDE activists.'


On another page of 'The Cambridge Student:'

'CUSU President Gerard Tully, said in a statement: "David Willetts is the architect of higher education policy which is actively damaging to the quality of education that Cambridge (and other universities) offer and creates an unfair financial barrier to students from the broadest backgrounds aspiring to University. It is entirely right that students and academics protest these policies, as over 100 did today before Mr Willetts' talk. Tonight students had the opportunity and choice to hear and question Mr Willetts, in the 800-year old tradition of academic enquiry and freedom of speech that Cambridge has pioneered. Students have now been denied that opportunity, and CUSU cannot support this.

'Freedom of expression is one of the founding principles of University education - no matter how objectionable the views being espoused are. Students believe in this principle and so does CUSU, so we cannot support any protest that violates it - which the disruption of David Willetts' talk tonight clearly did." '


Dr Patterson didn't sign the letter  (or a further letter written after the sanction of suspension had been imposed.) This is difficult to explain, given his views.  Dr Zurcher and Dr Scott-Warren signed both letters. The list of signatories is a list of people with an alternative view of freedom of speech. Confining attention to speaking at a meeting and not other forms of speaking, or writing or other forms of expression, freedom of speech is the freedom to prevent someone from speaking, not the freedom to speak at a meeting. This is only if the disrupters have approved views - not applicable, of course, to right wing disrupters trying to stop a left-wing speaker from addressing a meeting.


How the authorities could come up with a definitive list of supporters of the action isn't made clear. Whenever there's a disturbance, it's usually impossible to charge everybody concerned. Charging the most prominent person - in this case, the person doing leading the disruption, Owen Holland - isn't unreasonable. But the practicalities aren't uppermost in the minds of such people.


Jason Scott-Warren: 'Out! Out! Out!'


From the introduction to these profiles of academics, 'Some of the profiles of  academics give information about denial of free expression with a direct connection with the Israel-Palestinian conflict, others are concerned with denial of free expression with no direct connection with the Israel-Palestinian conflict. In all these cases, the academic has pro-Palestinian-anti-Israel views.' Dr Jason Scott-Warren is a prolific pro-Palestinian-anti-Israel statement signer.


Paul Sagar wrote an article for Liberal conspiracy, 'The student 'protest' at Cambridge last night was deluded.'
Dr Jason Scott-Warren wrote to correct him in the Comments section:

'It wasn’t only students who were involved in this ‘protest'; several academics were involved too. I was one of them. I was told in advance (during the protest which began at 4.30) about what was planned, and when it started I joined in with the chant that drowned Willetts out.'

Paul Sagar wrote:

'Willetts was introduced – with an explicit appeal for reasonable discussion – and the man himself took the stand. But as he began speaking, he was immediately interrupted. A single individual  [Owen Holland] began shouting.

'His every line was immediately repeated by 20-30 or so others. Thus began a long, ponderous series of declamations, bizarre poetic allegories, and varying denunciations of Willetts, his Government, the future of education, and everything in between.


'Willetts could not get a word in edge ways. The tension in the room was dramatic. It felt like it went on and on. Shout then chant, shout then chant ...


'When the “speech” from the floor was over, the instigators began chants of “Willetts Willetts Willets, Out Out Out”, and surged forward. They took the stage. Willetts had already left. The event was abandoned. A hundred or so other people were forced to exit without being able to voice their opinion or take part in the public debate they were invited to attend.


'I left the hall angry, disgusted and embarrassed. And I write as somebody who took part in the Cambridge Occupation last December, and has attended several recent protests against the Government’s cuts ...


'Firstly, it ... irritated all of those in the room who were not privy to CDE’s  unilateral decision. [CDE: Cambridge Defend Education] The result was the wasting of their time and making them feel marginalised, and in many cases also very angry. It’s hardly a good strategy for winning friends.


'Secondly, it allowed Willetts to leave Cambridge being able to claim that he’d tried to engage openly, but that irrational, unreasonable, selfish students had prevented any constructive dialogue. Anybody who thinks that this ‘action’ was a victory against Willetts is living in cloud cuckoo land.

There’s a considerable irony here too. One of CDE’s stated complaints about Willetts and his Government is that it is so sure of its own convictions they ride rough-shod over the opinions, concerns, rights and needs of others. And yet that is exactly what CDE did tonight.


'It was a show of disguised selfishness; the indulgence of a self-satisfied moral superiority.' 


In his comment, Dr Scott-Warren urges those people who are critical of the form the protest took (he's obviously not in the least critical) to be 'attacking the real enemy: a government with no democratic mandate for change destroying its public education system.'


His ignorance of the democratic system is obvious. The electorate have democratically elected a government. The electorate hasn't democratically voted for all the policies of the government which have been proposed or implemented after they were elected.

He's wrong, of course, to think that the electorate in general opposes the government's policies in higher education. There's widespread public indifference to higher education and the government's policies and actions which affect higher education.


I don't share this indifference in the least. I think that higher education -  not just teaching and research in science, technology, medicine and other subjects with obvious practical importance but teaching and scholarship in the humanities and other subjects without obvious practical importance - has massive importance. I think that academics, whose skills and knowledge are so often at a very, very high level, deserve to be paid more, perhaps much more.


There are many people who are hostile to universities. They may think, for example, that students are lazy layabouts. If Dr Scott-Warren doesn't realize this, he should mingle more with ordinary people. He might well be surprised, and shocked. He took part in a protest which would confirm  the contempt of so many ordinary people. It would confirm them in their view that universities aren't worth bothering about, or that people in universities are stupid, or that universities are hostile to British society.


This comment from 'cjcj' on the same page of 'Liberal Conspiracy' reflects the reaction most ordinary people would have to Dr Jason Scott-Warren, or a reaction far more likely than 'obviously a principled and justifiable protest.


'Jesus f*cking Christ, an academic (and from my own college too I discover after a quick google!) chooses to drown out a visiting speaker.

Perhaps I should pop into one of your lectures, Jason, and drown you out.'


Anyone who thinks that impoverished university graduates amount to a scandalous problem and have a very strong claim on public sympathies may like to take into account this view, presented by James Kirkup in the 'Daily Telegraph' (15 May, 2014):


'One person in five who receives university education becomes a millionaire, according to official figures.

 'Twenty per cent of all adults who hold at least one university degree — more than two million people — now have wealth totalling at least £1 million, data from the Office for National Statistics show.


'Almost a tenth of all British adults now own assets — property, pensions, savings and physical objects — worth £1 million or more.

 'The total number of millionaires in Britain has risen by 50 per cent in four years despite the recent financial crisis. The figures showed a stark gap in wealth between people with different levels of education. Only three per cent of people with no formal educational qualifications have assets worth more than £1 million.

 'The gap in wealth as it relates to education has widened over time. In 2006-07, some 16 per cent of graduates were asset millionaires, compared with two per cent of people without formal qualifications.



'David Willetts, the universities minister told The Telegraph that the figures were “more evidence of why going to university is a very good deal”.


'Nhe higher wealth of people with degrees justifies Coalition policies to charge higher tuition fees and push more school-leavers to go to university, he added.


' ''It shows why it’s fair to ask graduates to pay back the cost of their higher education, and why increasing the number of people who go to university will spread wealth and opportunity.' '


Dr Andrew Zurcher, selective libertarian

Dr Andrew Zurcher of Queens College, Cambridge, is an outspoken defender of free speech. If someone is invited to address a meeting but protestors disagree with the speaker, then outdated notions of free speech would defend the speaker's right to speak, not the protestors right to shout the speaker down. Not so! At least, for Dr Zurcher and many other Cambridge academics. The free speech of the censors is what counts. Obviously, the cause must be a virtuous one. If the speaker is an elected MP and a minister of a democracy, then this is no defence.


Andrew Zurcher is a committed defender  not just of freedom of speech, in this special sense, but freedom of action, such as occupation of buildings for as long as it takes - until demands are met, or unless 'repressive' action puts a stop to it.

I'm not sure if he would agree with disruption of his lectures (by such means as chanting a poem) or occupation of his own living quarters. There are limits to his tolerance.



He was one of  sixty Cambridge University academics who 'have spoken out in dismay at the university's handling of a peaceful protest in which more than one hundred students occupied the Law Faculty,' in the version of reality put out by  Cambridge Gaza Solidarity.  The occupation, which lasted a mere six days, before being terminated by the university authorities, was intended to show solidarity with the people of Gaza. The students made 'six main demands' (the number of lesser demands isn't given, whether small or large). One of the main demands was for  disinvestment from the arms trade.

In their letter (February 6, 2009) the academics write

'We ... strongly agree that an educational institution should not be involved with or benefit from the arms trade which has brought so much suffering around the world, and therefore support students' calls for disinvestment from this industry.'

And if every liberal democracy decided to have nothing to do with the arms trade, then every liberal democracy would go under. ISIS would no longer be bombed from the air and the guns would fall silent, the guns of liberal democracies' unarmed forces (formerly, armed forces), that is. ISIS could  invade this country in perfect safety, and could carry out beheading of kuffars, including the deluded people who signed the letter.


The consequences of principled objections to the arms trade before the Second World War are obvious, if not to these academics: a successful invasion of this country, followed by mass executions, genocide (genuine genocide, that is , not the genocide which it's claimed the Israelis carry out), forced labour and the ending of free speech.

These people also add some relatively inoffensive waffle.

'As teachers, we strive to foster in our students an interrogative and transformative attitude towards the world' whilst maintaining, in many or most cases, perhaps, an unquestioning belief in the dogma of Palestinian righteousness. This was one proclamation which didn't include even a token reference to Israel's right to defend itself.

Instead of indulging their self-indulgence, like the sixty academics, the University authorities gave a more valuable lesson to the students, in the form of a reality check: the limits to self-indulgence. (This will be a valuable lesson if any of these students are tempted to try similar tactics when they enter employment: occupation of the employer's premises won't be met with gratitude for their enlightenment.) 'Over the course of the six-day sit-in, the University threatened matriculation sanctions and legal action. It also endeavoured to prevent any food being brought into the building for the occupiers.'

If one of the main demands had been for the University to impose an academic boycott against Israel, and a hundred protestors had occupied a Medical Faculty Building and a hundred more Science Laboratories and a hundred more Geography buildings, until the university became gridlocked, if  a hundred radical Islamists had descended on the Law Faculty, occupied a different part of the building and demanded implementation of Sharia law, if hundreds and hundreds of other protesters had decided to occupy University buildings for other causes and made their demands, then even these academics might just have realized that this couldn't possibly go on. 


Andrew Zurcher outlines his particular interests:

'I work on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English literature, with a particular focus on the works of Edmund Spenser, Philip Sidney, and William Shakespeare. My research to date has emphasised early modern legal history, Elizabethan colonial and military activity in Ireland, textual studies (including palaeography and manuscript studies), the sixteenth-century reception of Academic and Pyrrhonist epistemology, early modern secretarial practice, and the theory and practice of allegory in the sixteenth century.'

Most of his work is remote from the military and ethical dimensions of the Israel-Gaza conflict. His publication 'English Handwriting 1500-1700: An Online Course, written with Raphael Lyne and Gavin Alexander, wouldn't provide many transferable skills, but his study of military activity in Ireland might have given him some useful insights. It seems not to have done so.

This is from his book 'Edmund Spenser's "The Faerie Queene": A Reading Guide'

Chapter 1. Mapping and making

' ... he was never far from the brutal and repressive violence of Elizabeth's military campaigns in Ireland. He was present at Lord Grey's victory at Smerwick in the autumn of 1580, when at least 600 Spanish and Papal troops surrendered and were summarily massacred. He later accompanied Lord Grey on similarly brutal campaigns in Wicklow and Wexford and he must have seen - and perhaps done - terrible things durig the war that slowly engulfed Ireland after the revolt of the Earl of Tyrone in 1594 ... '


Notice that although it seems very likely that he considers Israel beyond the pale, he has a very much more flexible attitude to Edmund Spenser. Edmund Spencer's involvement in 'brutal campaigns' doesn't count against him, or not decisively.


My page Ireland and Northern Ireland: distortions and illusions gives a harsh estimate of the position of Ireland at different periods of its history. At these times, it's virtually certain that if Ireland had not been under British influence, or rather, British occupation, it would have been occupied by another powerful state, and more brutal state than the British. See in particular the section on the period of the Second World War.


The harsh fact is that Israel provides protection for the Palestinian territories. Israel would do everything possible to prevent the Palestinian territories being occupied by Isis or another radical islamist organization worse than Hamas.


Dr Zurcher is featured in the article 'Cambridge's most eccentric professors,' published in 'The Tab,' a tabloid magazine produced by students at the University. I don't in the least gloat at the portrayal of Dr Zurcher in the article. I don't find the article interesting in the least, except for the brief quotation of Dr Zurcher's poetry. This, I think has obvious strengths.  'The Tab' on the other hand is tedious, I find, lightweight but leaden, another instance of the mediocrity which can coexist with achievement at Cambridge.


The Cambridge Gaza Solidarity page which gives the text of their letter also gives a list of links to other occupations. Highly recommended: the list of occupations. Reading the list of occupations will be more than enough for everyone but the most devoted occupiers, who will be certain that this kind of occupation is virtuous whilst Israel's (alleged) occupation is evil.

So, on to another cause, the 'Cambridge Defend Education' activists, which involved yet another occupation, this time the occupation of Lady Mitchell Hall. This is supplementary material, as the issue had nothing to do with the Israel-Palestinian conflict. There are obvious linkages, however, with the disruption of Shimon Peres' talk by Abdel Takriti.


This is one source of information on the protest.

'The Cambridge Defend Education campaign group was formed in October 2010 in opposition to the dramatic cuts to the government’s education budget and the raising of tuition fees to £9000.

'Dr Andrew Zurcher, in an open letter in support of CDE, published on their website, claimed that any threat to the core values of the university posed by the protesters when they interrupted Willetts’ speech was offset by the fact that the very act of inviting him to give the speech was, in the light of his recent political decisions, an insult to the moral standing of the university in itself. He challenged Goldhill: “You have said that CDE has mistakenly attacked the core values of the university. Perhaps you have undermined them, by inviting a politician to whitewash his ideologically driven rape of the university sector, in a speech that would rhetorically re-describe it as consensual sex.”

'Dr Simon Goldhill, of the Faculty of Classics, had publicly spoken out against the government’s new education policy; even joining a group of 681 academics who sent an open letter of protest against it to the national press last year. But when Willetts’ speech was interrupted, he reacted with an angry statement on the faculty website, claiming that the protesters had denied Willetts himself the very freedom of speech they claimed to be trying to protect.'


He wrote,

'There are two reasons why I was disappointed with the form of the protest. I say the form of the protest because, like Naomi Wolf who spoke in Cambridge two weeks ago, I believe that protest is a democratic necessity, and like most who work in the University I have been appalled by the nature of the proposed government reforms of education. I would have been surprised if there had been no expression of the anger many feel. But I was equally annoyed by the way these few students elected to behave.

'The first reason is that we lost an extraordinary opportunity. Mr Willetts agreed to do something very few politicians ever do: to face his critics for an hour of questions without any preconditions. We had some of his most articulate critics in the audience. This exceptional opportunity to change public opinion, whatever Mr Willetts’ response, was lost.

The second reason is that the protest, in the name of protecting the values of the university, destroyed the values of the university. You cannot defend the university as a place of rational debate, as the home of the free and critical exchange of ideas, by preventing people from listening to a talk they wish to hear, by refusing to listen to views you disagree with, and by shouting down any opposition ...


'The history of the twentieth century reveals again and again the disastrous consequences of this sort of behaviour. It starts with anger, often, as in this case, justified anger, but when it moves through absolute certainty, to violently excluding other voices, then the political consequences become lethal. I stood for a good while with the protesters earlier outside Lady Mitchell Hall, and heard speaker after speaker extol the opportunity for anyone to speak, to hear the marginal voices, and many passionate defences of educational principles with which I agree – and then sadly watched the violent destruction of such ideals in the protest’s strident, totalitarian yelling.’

I agree with Simon Goldhill. For the record, I've an immense respect for the achievements of this country in scholarship and in scientific and technological research and dismayed by the under-valuing of academics. I think they should be paid much more, even if a  minority wouldn't deserve to be paid more. 



The Oxbridge Essay site gives this information:

'Willetts was prevented from speaking at all, as several students around the hall began chanting a 25-minute poem beginning "David Willetts, the future does not belong to you/This is an epistle that is addressed to you". [Surely the word is 'doggerel,' not 'poem.'] The chanting was done using the so-called "people's microphone" method, whereby Owen Holland read out each line, which was then repeated back by all the other protesters. Willetts had been due to give a speech on "The Idea of the University", but left the hall during the course of the 'epistle'. The protest divided opinion among Cambridge students, many of whom, including CUSU President Gerard Tully, claimed that it had violated David Willetts' right to freedom of speech.'

The people who signed the letter in support of the occupation of the Law Faculty building may or may not have supported the disruption of the speech.

Film of the protest:

See also